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Sabina Spielrein and the Holocaust.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 4:57 pm

This week in Counselling Connections we are remembering the Holocaust. As we write this post the World is remembering the 70th anniversary today of the freeing of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Our profession has strong links to the Jewish faith. The founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud was Jewish and he fled the Anschluss, the German annexation of Austria in 1938. His daughter, Anna had been interrogated by the Gestapo and held for twenty four hours. Her arrest and release was the event which finally convinced him to abandon his home and celebrated consulting room in Vienna. He secured safe passage to England, where he was welcomed and there he spent the last year of his life. Members of his family weren’t so fortunate and four of his five sisters were killed in concentration camps.

We want to remember in a particular way today a lesser known member of the psychoanalytic profession and the Jewish faith, Sabina Spielrein. Sabina, was born in 1885 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia into what is described as a well-to-do, cosmopolitan, Russian Jewish family. She had an avid interest in science from an early age. In 1904 she went to Zurich to study medicine. She suffered a breakdown there and was put under the care of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Over the next seven years she was first his patient and then his friend. They were described as ‘emotionally intimate’ and it seems likely that doctor and patient had a profound influence on each other. In 1911 she graduated with a dissertation on the subject of schizophrenia, one of the first published papers on the subject. She presented further papers to the Psychoanalytical association and it seems clear that she was a bright and original thinker on the subject. Much of her early work included descriptions of the struggles of the life and death instincts within the psyche. It seems likely that her work influenced both Jung and Freud.

Sabina married in 1912 and had a daughter, Renate, the following year. She returned to her native Russia in 1924 and in 1926 had a second daughter, Eva. After a period in Moscow she returned to her hometown and founded a psychoanalytic children’s nursery. Psychoanalysis was banned by Stalin but it seems likely that she continued to practice covertly. In 1941 the German army advanced on Rostov. Along with other members of the Jewish community Sabina was captured by the advancing army. On July 27th 1942, Sabina and her daughters Renate and Eva were shot and killed.

We remember them today as symbols of all those innocents killed. We remember Sabina as a brilliant and skilled analyst and wonder at her loss. We wonder how her contribution might have been remembered if she had lived. Her work did not receive the attention it might have and she is not a well known figure in the history of the psychoanalytic movement. We bring Sabina to your attention today as our modest contribution to remembering. Like many we feel it is important that the torch of remembrance is passed on and kept alive by this and by future generations. The horrors of the Holocaust and the unbearable human suffering it brought about are reminders of the dark forces within human kind. We cannot afford to forget the hate that men are capable of and how a death instinct can be directed at a race or religion.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

You can read more about Sabina in ‘Freud’s Women’ by Lisa Appignanesi and John Forrester or online at the Jewish Women’s archive:

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